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Extreme Road Warrior Part II – Something in the Air

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

16 days later, I’m back.  (See Part I as well.)   I found a few things rather useful for those traveling on business and wanted to share these with you.

Skype Pro
Skype Pro is a relatively new offering that costs only $3 per month but offers many features particularly useful to the road warrior.  Most notable is the international traveler calling plan.  Users pay no per minute charges for calls to landlines within the same country or region (a connection fee per call, $0.045, may apply).  Coverage includes 28 countries, all of the ones I visited (Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) with the exception of Denmark.  In some countries, including Argentina and France, only certain major metropolitan areas are included.

With Skype Pro you also get a $30/year discount on a SkypeIn number, a free Skype To Go number (you can make international calls from your mobile phone at SkypeOut rates), and free Skype voicemail.

Research in Motion and Verizon Wireless: BlackBerry 8830 World Edition
I also tested Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 8830 World Edition CDMA/GSM.  Part of RIM’s 8800 series of phones, all of which share a full QWERTY keyboard, the pearl-like trackball for navigation, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and a built-in speakerphone.  The 8830 supports dual-band 800/1900 MHz CDM-2000 1x EV-DO as well as dual-band 900/1800 MHz GSM/GPRS.

For Verizon Wireless customers who travel internationally, this makes it very easy to have a single number that works almost anywhere, something ordinarily not possible with most Verizon Wireless phones, which work only with CDMA networks.  The phone itself, however, was not that easy to use.  I found the keyboard, both for typing and for dialing, not nearly as user-friendly (in terms of not hitting the wrong key) as the smaller format Pearl, which given its quasi-QWERTY keyboard uses RIM’s SureType technology to allow users to compose messages quickly.  The centered dialpad was much easier to use on the Pearl than the 8830′s keyboard, which is not centered.  The 8830 also frequently refused access to the + key, necessary for dialing country codes.  Normally one presses down zero for a few moments and + comes up.  With the 8830, the + only worked occasionally and I had to resort to saving the + and using the paste function in order to dial calls.

These issues not withstanding, Web browsing, BlackBerry e-mail, and placing and receiving phone calls all worked perfectly.

Hotels
I visited multiple hotels and wanted to pass along a few observations important to the business traveler.

1.)    Hilton am Tucherpark, Munich, Germany
Internet worked well.  Rooms were comfortable to work in.  Location was a bit out of the way but on the other hand it was alongside the English Garten.

2.)    Mandarin Oriental, Munich, Germany
Couldn’t ask for a better location, within the heart of the Altstadt and close by to practically everything.  The rooms were recently refurbished and provided a comfortable work environment, although a more appropriate desk chair would have been icing on the cake.  Good Internet service.  Very personalized services, for example check-in formalities are done in the room.  Guests are always addressed by name.  Restaurant Mark’s is one of the top restaurants in the city and deservedly so.  It was too cold to really enjoy the roof-top pool but the views from the pool deck were magnificent.

3.)    Hilton am Stadtpark, Vienna, Austria
Excellent location across the street from the Stadtpark, Executive floor lounge had two free computers but they were always in use.  Internet was slow.  Reading lights for in-bed reading were weak.

4.)    Holiday Inn, Munich – Schwabing, Germany
Recently renovated rooms and lobby, plus a wonderful breakfast buffet.  Not overly luxurious but very comfortable.  New business center is a nice touch with a sufficient number of computers to accommodate most comers.  Internet service through Swisscom offered business-level service with quality-of-service guarantee (no questions asked).  I found the service slow and told them.  I was immediately offered a credit.

5.)    Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg, Germany
Located on the western side of the Binnenalster lake, an impressive location to say the least, the Vier Jahreszeiten is also in the heart of the business district and its cafés, bars, and restaurants attract a local crowd in addition to visitors.  Hamburg, a city of merchants, is a bustling port on the edge of Scandinavia, with never-ending river traffic along the Elbe.  I noticed many Hamburgers came to afternoon tea, which featured live piano music.  Rooms are equipped with antique furniture, Wi-Fi that was usually OK but sometimes slow, comfortable work environment, and incredible views of the Binnenalster (the Alster is divided into the Binnenalster and the Außenalster, inner and outer Alster, respectively).

6.)    Die Swaene, Brugge, Belgium
The first thing I noticed about Brugge were the town’s narrow streets (on which local residents drove very quickly), centuries-old buildings that time had left untouched, and the city’s canal systems.  Brugge was, in the 14th and 15th centuries, a cultural bridge between northern and southern Europe.  It was rediscovered by English tourists in the mid-1800s who had come to see the nearby battlefield of Waterloo.  Today, it is a hideaway for business meetings and romantic journeys.  Die Swaene, a beautiful small luxury hotel run more like an inn, is a wonderful setting to meet but perhaps not to work in if you require Internet access.  Since my stay was largely during a weekend and in addition to my meeting my plans were mostly to see the city, I didn’t live or die by Internet access but it was limited to the lobby and first floor salon and never worked in the salon and worked only part of the time in the lobby.  When asked, one of the managers smiled and said that it must be “something in the air.”

7.)    Park-Hotel Bremen, Germany
Located in the middle of the Bürgerpark, my stay there was brief (arrived Monday at 21.00) in order to be in nearby Bremerhaven for an early morning meeting.  The hotel’s services were exemplary, Internet was lightning fast (although their system required that I connect both the USB cable and the RJ-45 cable to my laptop), and I was sorry to leave only 12 hours after arriving.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Extreme Road Warrior

Friday, October 26th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

I’m writing this from Hamburg, at least I think that’s where I am.  Sometimes trips can be just plain boring.  This one was most decidedly not.  In a 16 day whirlwind tour I would stay in seven hotels and would span 8 cities to cover, however briefly: Munich, Vienna, Munich (again), Hamburg, Brugge, Düsseldorf, Bremen, and Bremerhaven.  Countries: Germany, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

Normally my trips last four to five days.  With meetings and events spread out across half a month, this trip would be more than three times as long.  And just to make things a bit more interesting, the weather forecast was rather fickle.  Every time I looked, it had changed.  Would it rain, snow (yes, snow in mid-October), drizzle, or perhaps even be sunny?  The answer was all of the above and therefore I had to pack for all contingencies.

The beginning of the trip was timed so that I could attend the grand opening of BMW’s new “experience and delivery center,” the BMW Welt (for more information, see my article in Business Traveler magazine). For the following week, BMW had invited me to be the first customer to take delivery of a new car at the Welt (this is covered in the blog as well).

BMW was super organized, managing the arrival of hundreds of invited guests who were coming by plane, train, and yes, automobile.  Dozens of 5er and 7er BMWs in the VIP Fleet were busy ferrying guests to hotels, to a celebratory dinner Monday evening, and to the opening itself.

The opening was incredible.  I arrived early for a breakfast at the Welt and (as you will see if you refer to the photos in the blog), the morning light gave the new landmark a particularly striking appearance.  The weather that day: sunny and 21°C.

The next day, off to a client for meetings and thereafter, dinner.  Friday, meetings in the morning, lunch and an excursion to the country in the afternoon.

Saturday, off to Vienna, but first I wanted to attend (however briefly) BMW’s Publikumstag (public day) and see how the public would receive the building (they loved it, from all accounts).

My Monday morning meeting in Vienna was cancelled so I drove back to Munich.  Tuesday was the big day.  I would be the first customer to take delivery of a new car at the BMW Welt.  Once again, shortly after 7.00 in the morning, I was being driven to the Welt.  The weather was nowhere as nice; it was drizzling and much cooler.  But that didn’t matter.  As I walked through the door, each person I encountered proudly told me I was the first customer to arrive.

Next week, Extreme Road Warrior Part II.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

What If the Well Runs Dry?

Friday, March 30th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

A Brief Note from the Road Warrior

I’m writing this at the Tacoma Sheraton where I am speaking at a conference.

The hotel is tired and faded but it boasts wireless Internet in every room.  What the hotel doesn’t promise, however, is that there will be working Internet.

Yes, here we go again.  As I sat in my room with a colleague, preparing for my presentation, every tab on my browser was replaced by a Sheraton “Connect to the Internet” tab, which in many cases just would not go away.  Only rarely was I able to connect to a page and that lasted at most for a minute or two.

I spoke with someone at the front desk.  The finger was pointed at a possibly weak signal (yes, the signal was weak but that wasn’t the problem).  They offered to send up a wireless bridge, which wouldn’t help but the front desk seemed to feel it would improve the signal (it didn’t, as I knew before we plugged it in, but I had to humor them).

I then spoke with technical support, located several states away.

No problems reported but I gave them ping times for www.yahoo.com of over 700 ms and he agreed that something was amiss.

To the hotel’s credit, the front desk clerk immediately offered to credit the cost of the Internet (“why should you pay for something if it’s not working) but on the whole, I’d rather have working Internet and pay the fee.

24 hours later, the system was “working”.  It was slow, but at least it worked.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Beijing Journal Part II

Friday, March 23rd, 2007 by Ellen Pearlman

As I am settling in Beijing, I am adjusting to some of the quirks and inconveniences of being a non-Chinese-speaking/reading visitor.  For example, when someone tries to text message me, the phone naturally displays it in Chinese characters.  Or when I try to pay for Skype through a credit card instead of PayPal, it takes over 48 hours to get card approval.  Though minor inconveniences, these setbacks could be annoying when dealing with time sensitive materials.

I am just beginning to get a handle on the Chinese censorship of the Internet, which is quite subtle.  I can get CNN and the NY Times, but if I type in the word “dharma” I get filtered out almost completely (I guess it’s a dirty word) and most You Tube broadcasts will not pull from the server, regardless of content.  The censorship seems to be roving, a bit arbitrary though extremely strict.  Besides pornography they are avid on restricting spirituality.  The thing about censorship is that you don’t now what is being censored, because you don’t know exactly what you are looking for.  There is a terribly odd quality of vacuum or mist, like you know it is there but you can’t see it, so you don’t know what it is you are not seeing.

The censorship works on two levels, the first is through Google China, which filters content, and the second is through delivering information from the server.  So even if you find the header you want in Goggle, the server just refuses to load the page, which is a raw, in your face, way of saying you’ve been found out and this is restricted information.  The page will just not load.  This dual filtering is very efficient and lethal and works towards creating a collective amnesia.  Of course, I can only speak about the English language as I have no idea of what is going on in Chinese, though I suspect it may be the same, if not worse.  It is equivalent to going to a library and looking up the topic “1960′s party scene”.  You may be looking for stories of wild parties in California and instead the only returns you get are the 1960′s Communist Youth International Party Conference.  This way you never know there were parties in California, even though it is common knowledge in the rest of the world.  So if you don’t know about it you don’t miss it.

The end result of this kind of information filter is a more docile and reined in population that essentially doesn’t know, and for the most part doesn’t care about what they are missing.  And it seems that the few who do care, and speak about it in chat rooms, are monitored by internal policing and I really don’t know what happens to them.

A more  blatant example is what happened the other night.  I was at a social gathering and was talking to a group of Chinese about the Paris Hilton debacle, both the sex tapes that circulated on the Internet, and her reality TV show with Nicole Ritchie.  The Chinese are well aware of the Hilton Hotel Chain, though they had never heard of Paris before.  I realized the whole story of her adventures, or misadventures had been filtered out of all the news media in all forms.  Now that’s one efficient censorship machine.  But, on the other hand, they allow, and encourage American Idol.  Go figure.

Analyst Ellen Pearlman is on assignment in China

Beijing Journal

Thursday, March 8th, 2007 by Ellen Pearlman

Three days before I am to fly to China, I encounter a problem with my ThinkPad.  With the help of Lenovo tech support in Atlanta, Georgia I find out that my ThinkPad’s wireless card has gone POOF.  The day before I am to leave I receive a replacement card.  I call tech support again, and am told to watch the instructional videos on line that show how to remove the 4 screws for the keyboard, 9 screws for the palm rest, and then how to swap out the wireless card, which resembles a memory card.  I print the instructions out, and turn my computer over.  The Phillips head screwdriver I have doesn’t work on the special screws and, as I am leaving for Beijing in a scant 12 hours, I throw up my hands and decide I will take care of it after landing.

Once in Beijing, having dinner with my hosts, I immediately tell them that I need a Lenovo store in order to have them install the wireless card.  The next day, after a flurry of phone calls, three Chinese gentlemen show up at my door.  Only one of them speaks English.  He takes out his tool kit and according to my memory of IBM’s instructions (which I repeat to him), he takes out the 4 keyboard screws and 9 palm rest screws with his special screwdriver.  The keyboard comes off easily, but the palm rest board does not follow suit.  He works on it for 25 minutes but it will not budge and neither of us can figure it out.  Finally he just gently lifts it up so he does not break the plastic and is then able to swap out the wireless card.  He puts it all back but it still refuses to function.  He then takes his portable USB drive, goes to a business next door, accesses the Internet, downloads a new driver from the Lenovo site, hooks up his portable drive to my laptop, installs the new driver, and voilà, I am immediately able to access my WLAN connection.  Total cost for the two hour on-site English speaking visit?  RMB 180, or $23.25. Priceless? Well, almost.

Analyst Ellen Pearlman is on assignment in China.

The Road Warrior’s European Fly/Drive Sojourn

Friday, November 25th, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

Friday, November 11, 2005, Munich Germany
Last week, we left off with success (insofar as Internet connectivity was concerned) in the Confetti Suite; this after two other suites had no connectivity.  Prior to my departure from the hotel (today’s plans called for a drive from Munich to Italy via Innsbruck across the Brennerpaß as far as Sferzing, and looping back to Berchtesgaden), I passed by the front desk just in time to hear another guest complaining about problems with Net connectivity.  He was quite upset (apparently, his room had no connectivity) and was simultaneously speaking with one of the hotel managers and someone on a customer service line.  His complaint: had he known he would not have Internet access, he would have stayed elsewhere.  Apparently, I was lucky to be in the Confetti Suite.

As Net access in hotels becomes as ubiquitous as television, hotels (such as the one I was staying in) catering to business travellers need to ensure a more seamless experience.  Almost all hotels work with third-party providers; unfortunately, when that partner becomes unreliable, the hotel guest sees only the hotel brand and such unreliability tarnishes that brand.  Unhappy guests seldom return, regardless of who was at fault.

Friday, November 11, 2005, Berchtesgaden, Germany
630 kilometers later and at an altitude of 950 m, I found myself comfortably ensconced in a suite at the recently-opened InterContinental Resort Berchtesgaden.  No Confetti Suite here; I was online within minutes.  The biggest problem I had was finding an electrical outlet for the computer (the outlets were concealed behind a wood panel).  Berchtesgaden was to be my base for the remainder of my trip.

During the balance of my stay, I visited Dürnstein (the town where Richard the Lionhearted was held captive), Lienz, Kitzbühel, and Sopron (Hungary) – in all, driving 2426 km.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005, Munich, Germany
I drove ca. 175 km to the town of Garching, outside of Munich, to turn the car over to the shipping agent.  From Garching, it was a 15-minute ride to Munich’s ultra-modern Franz Josef Strauss Airport.  As mentioned last week, I had been looking forward to trying Lufthansa’s FlyNet onboard Internet service, but on the trip over, the service was unfortunately kaput.  I was pressing my thumbs together (German/Austrian equivalent of “fingers crossed”) for good luck for the flight home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005, 11,000 m over Europe
As soon as we reached cruising altitude, my computer detected Wi-Fi and I logged into FlyNet.  Seat power outlets are conveniently located and I had a choice of U.S. or the European Schuko connection systems.  I started off with simple chores, such as checking the news (I decided NOT to grab a handful of newspapers as I boarded, opting – hoping – to see the more current online versions).

With Lotus Notes replicating my mail and other databases in the background, I started receiving Sametime instant messages from colleagues.  Briefly put, my initial experience (discounting last week’s flight) with FlyNet was very positive.  Granted, it was relatively slow (I did several speed tests and it was marginally faster than GPRS) but we WERE, after all, at 11,000 m cruising along at 860 km/h.

After reading some e-mail, I called home using Skype (quality was decent), checked my voicemail, upgraded iTunes, did some online banking – in short, nothing extraordinary, absent the venue.

My neighbor in seat 3J, Frau Frowein, lives in Munich and was visiting New York for the first time.  She had some questions for me about things to do, so I suggested we look online at some information about events for the upcoming week in New York – another good use for FlyNet.  I also recommended a concert at Carnegie Hall, so we looked at the program and she and I booked a ticket for her for a concert with Hilary Hahn.  We also e-mailed her daughter (Frau Frowein had never used e-mail before).

About 3 hours into the flight, I briefly lost the connection but the service was flawless from that point forward.

Last Tuesday’s flight took place entirely during business hours in the United States.  We departed at 15:15 local time, which is 09:15 in New York.  We landed at 18:25 New York time.  This represents an entire day – and given the pace at which the knowledge economy moves – missing one day is more than many can afford.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Internet is in the Hands of the Lawyers

Thursday, November 10th, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

Wednesday, 9 November 2005, New York City
I start writing this column in Lufthansa’s Senator lounge.  I’m about to depart on a flight from New York (JFK) to Munich (MUC).  First things first: Lufthansa has the best beer; perhaps I shouldn’t mention this, but they have Spaten Oktoberfest on tap.

But I digress.

I’m going to Munich for several reasons, including client meetings and to participate in BMW’s European Delivery program.  The trip also presents an opportunity for me to finally test the Lufthansa FlyNet service (powered by Connexion by Boeing).  Earlier this year, Lufthansa added the service to New York flights; it had been available on the Los Angeles – Munich route for over a year now.

Before boarding the aircraft, I stop in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge for a snack and a drink.  For a variety of reasons (see further down), I am glad I do.   I open my laptop, briefly scan some news and e-mail messages, and board the flight.

By the time I board, we are already 30 minutes delayed due to thunderstorms in the area.  After boarding, we wait almost two hours for takeoff due to a backlog of 60 aircraft.  I’m glad I had that snack as it is 22:30 before we take off and the flight crew doesn’t start the meal service until almost an hour later.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 11,000 m and 860 km/h
I plug my laptop into the convenient seat outlet (the outlet accepts American and European Schuko connection systems) and – nothing.  No Wi-Fi.  No signal.  I ask the purser as she happens by, and her response is simple and to the point: “es ist kaput.”

Given the late hour, and the fact that I have fairly early meetings scheduled, I must confess, that I am not too distressed.

Lufthansa’s flat beds are quite comfy and I am able to get in about 4 hours of sleep before breakfast.  When I awake, I assume we only have one hour of flight left as we had definitely made up lost time in flight.  Unfortunately, just as we finish breakfast, the captain announces that, due to a dense fog (something not uncommon this time of year in Munich), we have to circle.  We do this for ca. 45 additional minutes, making our arrival time 11:45.

Thursday, 10 November 2005, Munich, Germany
The original plan called for me to proceed to BMW’s Freimann Delivery Center for my car (for the curious reader, I will be happy to provide greater detail; however, since this is not a column for Motor Trend, I am limiting my comments to explaining that the car is a BMW 330xi, in Sparkling Graphite, and yes, it has Bluetooth).  A driver was waiting for me at the airport, and we arrive quickly enough, but by then, my schedule is off by 90 minutes.

One of my scheduled meetings was with Herrn Helmut Pöschl and a few colleagues of his who are working on the BMW Welt program.  Herr Thomas Roller, the director of BMW’s delivery center, offers to take me to my meeting first and we speed off in a very fast 130i.  We don’t make it back until 17:30 (more on BMW Welt in an upcoming column) and the Center is empty.  Herr Roller himself does the delivery and off I go to my “Stammhotel” on the Leopoldstraße.

Met at the door by the manager, Herr Klein, who is very happy to see me and wants to give me an Internet report; specifically, he wants to accompany me to my room to ensure that my room has a working Net connection.  “How has the Internet connectivity been working?” I enquire.  His reply: “It is now in the hands of our lawyers, as we are unable to get the service provider (Swisscom) to keep the system up and running.”

First room, nothing.  Second room, the “Hunting Suite” (hunting lodge decor, no dead animals on the wall, happily), nothing.  Third room, the Confetti Suite (please don’t ask) – we have connectivity.

TO BE CONTINUED

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Internet is Broken (or how to deliver “free” broadband – and take two giant steps backwards – in one fell swoop)

Sunday, January 25th, 2004 by Jonathan Spira

Lotusphere 2004 started today (this COTW is being written on Sunday, the 25th of January), as it does every year at this time.  Traditionally, thousands of Lotus customers, business partners and members of the media descend on Walt Disney World, concentrating on the Dolphin and Swan hotels.

This year, I’m staying at the Swan which last year, along with the Dolphin, implemented broadband Internet access in all of its guest rooms.  Best of all, it’s free as it is included in the $10 per diem resort fee, which remained at the pre-broadband price.  After settling into their rooms, guests enjoyed speedy access to the Net, that is until the Lotusphere opening party wrapped and all the IBMers went back to their rooms.  At that point, my 1995 vintage 1200 baud modem would have been faster.  But whereas I would normally chalk that up to beginner’s, uh, luck, the same thing happened last year.

Today, I arrived in my suite just as the party was fizzling out.  I wasn’t suffering from Web or e-mail withdrawal, thanks to the variety of Bluetooth-enabled devices (laptop, PDA) which utilize my mobile for GPRS access.  But I did want to look at a few high-bandwidth Web sites so I connected to the hotel’s network.

Big mistake.

Something was dramatically wrong as even the Swan/Dolphin commercial page that loaded after the legal “accept” page didn’t make it past 4%.  So I called the help line.  “The Internet is actually broken,” I was told.  “Our servers are down so there’s no access.”  But I had access, albeit slow, I helpfully explained.  “They’re working on it” was the reply.  I thought about this for about two seconds and rang up the front desk manager, Jonathan, a cheerful chap who assured me that he had been on the Web earlier and hadn’t detected a problem – while at the same time advising that we all shared the same T1.  I think Jonathan hit on the root of the problem, as one T1 line couldn’t possibly be sufficient for all these guest rooms – especially given the number of high tech conferences taking place here.  But he checked on what I had been told and rang me back.  He was very apologetic, assuring me that the Internet, indeed, was “not broken.”  He even credited me a day and a half in resort fees, promising me the situation would improve.  [Did I mention that, while I was connected to the hotel's network, my computer received an RPC shutdown command that restarted the system - three times?]

So if anyone thinks that the high tech industry has made any great leaps in the hospitality industry over the past year, kindly give pause and rethink that thought.  And download our report “Romancing the Road Warrior: The Case for Free Net Access” – gratis for Basex:TechWatch readers.

Now I leave you with Jonathan’s final advice to me: “It might be faster if you use a phone line and dial an ISP.”  I wasn’t going to tell him about Bluetooth and GPRS, but that, dear reader, thanks to my belt and suspenders approach to Net access, is how you got to read this story.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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